By Adrienne Sylver
From medical devices to cell phones, we have become dependent on batteries and chargers to keep us functioning. Imagine the day, however, when there is no longer a need for transmission lines, charging cords and manually plugging electric vehicles into an outlet.
Step-by-step, FIU researchers at the College of Engineering and Computing are developing technology to help bring the world closer to operating on wireless power.
Shubhendu Bhardwaj, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, has partnered with smart power company Wireless Electrical Grid LANDS (WiGL – pronounced “wiggle”) to further develop hassle-free electronics. More than $100,000 in grants from WiGL help fund FIU’s wireless electronics research.
“It’s really about making our lives more ergonomic,” Bhardwaj said. “Suppose that just walking into a building or sitting at your desk, your phone is charging without having to be plugged in. What if we could stop searching for charging stations in airports?”
Similar to the way we connect to WiFi networks today, we could eventually connect with wireless energy networks.
The technology has extremely broad applications. Bhardwaj cited the healthcare industry as just one example where sensors and implantable medical devices that rely on batteries are widely used. In addition, wireless power would be a significant solution to the difficulties faced today of providing energy to remote communities or locations.
At the foundation of Bhardwaj’s work on the WiGL project is his research in energy harvesting, wearable antennas and electronic sensors. He's already developing “smart” textiles, or fabrics embedded with electronics and sensors.
The idea of wireless energy is not new. Scientist Nikola Tesla experimented with air ionization to transfer power in the 1890s. Energy can also be transmitted using microwaves, electromagnetic fields and other methods. Charging cradles and charging pads are already popular, but in nearly all cases of everyday use, the device being charged must be close to the charger.
Using a system of antennas and receivers, Bhardwaj and his team of FIU students are fine-tuning the ability to beam-steer the signal so that it can cover larger distances and be targeted to where it is most needed. Their early progress on the work with WiGL was reported in an article, published Sept. 9, in the scientific journal Nature.
“This work is an amazing experience for me and our students,” Bhardwaj said. “It will take multiple agencies [such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission] working together to make this reality. We play just one part in enabling the technology to move forward. But this has the potential to be a game-changer.”